Interview with Elisabetta Vernier for Galaktika Magazin
by Csordás Attila
First of all, I’d like to thank Attila Nemeth for bringing ClipArt to Hungary: it’s a privilege for me to have my short novel published in a country where readers are so enthusiastic about our favourite genre. So, once again, thank you Galaktika!
1. What gave you the inspiration to write ClipArt?
You probably read in the book presentation that the general plot of the novel was inspired by a RPG adventure, based on my Kranio Enterprises series, I played with some friends around ’98. But of course, this was just the spark that set the story on fire. My inspiration comes from the great masterpieces of Cyberpunk and the tons of SF novels I’ve read in the past. But I tried to move on, because I personally find Gibson and his novels too gloomy and hopeless, and I wanted a light side for my stories: Stephenson’s SnowCrash was of great inspiration for me, but also the Japanese SF anime and manga production of the ’90, lots of SF movies and TV series, and – last but not least – my job as a web expert, that allowed me to understand how reality was being changed by the onset of new Internet technologies.
2. In the novel, several of the protagonists are strong female characters. Do you think that women are getting more important roles in society these days than they had before?
Let’ see… Of the three female characters in the novel, I think Alexandra Hill – the leading character – is the weakest, actually. The whole plot unfolds because of her weakness: first her love, then her denial, finally her desire for revenge. Much stronger are the two minor female characters, RUE and Candy: both outcast, one for her disability, the other for her role as a high-class escort for spoilt millionaires, they find their place in the world, one with her virtual friends and the other with a bunch of crazy bikers in the desert. So, as you see, it’s not conventional strength we’re talking about.
Alexandra has the illusion of having an important role and great responsibilities, but in the end, she really is only a puppet in Xander’s hands: I’ve seen this happen in real life, and I believe women – especially in the business and political environments – are still fighting their way out of the “glass ceiling” they find over their heads at some crucial points of their career.
3. There are some classic cyberpunk elements in ClipArt and in the two short stories that are involved in the Hungarian edition of the book, like yakuza gangsters, computers, implants and so on. What do you think about cyberpunk as a writer, and as a web expert? Will our future be like it’s depicted in cyberpunk?
I love cyberpunk! But you know, for almost a decade now many SF experts in Italy have been saying “Cyberpunk is dead”. In my opinion, they couldn’t be more wrong: Cyberpunk is HERE! This is probably the reason why some readers don’t consider it a SF theme anymore. We have implants, we have virtual worlds – I personally run a SF bookclub in Second Life! – social interaction is becoming more and more dependent on Internet technologies – think about Facebook, chat clients, Twitter – and “wearable” computers are a large part of our personal and working life already. Just think how many 3G iPhones were sold in a few days!
When it comes to society and environment issues, you can’t help noticing that multinational companies interests are deeply influencing world politics, Asia is gaining an ever stronger role, the climate is going crazy, large cities are heavily polluted, raw materials are becoming more and more scarce and expensive. Doesn’t it sound cyberpunk? I recently read that some regions in Africa are becoming polluted by heavy metals contained in the tons of old computers (that Western countries dump there) when they’re set on fire. Just imagine: burning mounds of computer skeletons. And it’s already happening!
4. Lobo and Judge are names that remind me of famous comics heroes (Lobo and Judge Dredd). Do you like comics?
It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question, but honestly I must say that Lobo’s name didn’t come from my own imagination: it was borrowed from the imagination of the player who – that RPG night – created the basis for his character. He might have been a fan, but I have to admit I only know Lobo, the comic book hero, by name. Something similar happened with The Judge and Judge Dredd: for the founder of the Faxers movement – the crazy bikers that surgically change their face – I needed a name that would sound familiar to the readers, but not too much, and obviously a name that was not copyrighted by some major comic book publisher! Anyway, I like comics a lot, just not those two in particular. I collect Wolverine, who is my all-time favourite, but also read the X-men and a lot of Alan Moore. V for Vendetta is a great favourite of mine and I loved the movie! I read and collect many Japanese manga SF series: Hayao Miyazaki, Go Nagai and Leiji Matsumoto’s classic SF masterpieces, mainly, plus some new authors… and a lot of romantic shojo manga. I guess it comes with being born in the Seventies.
5. SandWorm, deserts and other references/allusions to Dune are also present in the book. Are you a fan of Frank Herbert’s series?
Am I so transparent? Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series is, of course, one of my favourite readings, and I also enjoyed the “new series” by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert.
I believe they were able to capture part of the original spirit of the “Dune universe”, but with a faster rhythm, more suitable for the new generation of readers. As a writer, I find the desert to be very inspiring and the temptation to call the bikers tribe “Sandworms” was simply too strong to resist. For a moment, I also thought they could smoke some “spice” drug, but then I thought I’d rather not be sued for copyright infringement. These are tough times!
6. Despite all the violence, ClipArt is still a light and joyful book, I think. What’s your opinion?
As I mentioned earlier, I like my novels to be entertaining and fun for the readers: for this reason, my stories usually have a light side. Main characters never take themselves too seriously, and there’s a lot of irony in what they do and say. Some readers told me I can be mean to my characters, especially to Alexandra: they were really mad about the end of the story! Anyway, the “joyful” layer is always limited to how characters relate to each other, and to specific action sequences and plot lines. The message in the background, though, is still grim: the rich bad guys always win, in the end, because this is how the world goes.
7. Could you tell us a few words about the sequel of ClipArt, which is called Beginning?
If you’ve read some of the Kranio Enterprises short stories, you should know by now that I’m a serial writer. After ClipArt was closed, its characters still lived in my imagination and asked for new adventures. And many readers wanted to know if Alexandra was ever going to have her revenge on David Xander. So Beginning was born: it’s a more structured novel, much longer than the first, and it begins shortly after Alexandra’s mission to the Wastelands. There have been several failed attempts to kill David Xander, and our favourite millionaire has decided to hire a professional security manger, a former counter-terrorism unit leader. The team investigates the real and virtual world to prevent the killer from fulfilling his mission, but all countermeasures fail: David suffers a terrible attack and is very close to dying. There’s a lot of action, blood, shooting and thrilling moments, but also that same light side you found in ClipArt. Alexandra will reassess her priorities in ways we can’t imagine, RUE will risk her life and find a new one, and David… well, we don’t like spoilers, do we?
8. Some of your works are only published on the internet. Do you think that this may be the future of publishing literature?
Book publishing is a business, writing is an art. Very little of what is written ever gets published “in print”, through the traditional channels, for many different reasons: for publishers a book is a product, and of course they pick those which are more likely to sell in large numbers, and they don’t pick at random: they talk to literary agents. And agents won’t represent an author unless he/she is already successful.
On the other hand, writing is something that comes from inside: while some writers are capable of bending their creativity to produce something that will sell, some others just write what their mind and heart tell them, and they might or might not have the chance to find a publisher. In this case, the Internet is a good way to showcase your product, but in my opinion it can be efficient only when you already have a number of readers that know you and follow you. Otherwise, your work will be lost in an ocean of unedited and unreviewed stories: the Internet is full of them. And in both cases, the chances of being noticed and published in print by a traditional publisher are very small, if non-existent.
We could also talk about e-books, but this is a totally different way of looking at publishing, very depending on the diffusion of the next generation of e-book reader devices. So if you’re asking me if e-books will ever replace printed books, I really don’t know.
10. Could you tell us a few words about Italian science-fiction? Are there SF Magazines? Is SF popular in Italy?
I must say I’m not very qualified to answer this question: you should really ask Silvio Sosio, publisher of Delos Science Fiction magazine. Delos is the longest running Italian SF magazine, published online since 1994. In print, on the other hand, Robot magazine is very important too: its story is somehow similar to Galaktika, though with smaller numbers. It was famous in the past, then it was closed for some time and was brought back recently, by DelosBooks in 2003. It publishes many of the Hugo and Nebula award winning short stories, but also some Italian authors.
11. What other Italian SF authors do you recommend for the Hungarian readers?
The most published Italian SF author is Valerio Evangelisti with his “Eymerich the Inquisitor” series, though I’m not sure if your readers would consider his books to be true SF stories. For alternate history, Luca Masali is also very good. For readers who like Cyberpunk, I would recommend Giovanni De Matteo and Alberto Cola. Enrica Zunic, on the other hand, is very good in dealing with ethical aspects of SF. Roberto Quaglia is the most original Italian author I know, a sort of local Sheckley (they were big friends), and he’s probably also the most published Italian – if not the only one! – in Romania. Unfortunately, I’m too young to be very familiar with the great Italian SF writers of the past, but I know there were a good number.
12. You are rather informed about the reception of the book in Hungary. Do you think it’s important to watch the reviews?
Of course I’m informed! I’m a strong social networking person: I keep a blog and I have a website since 1996 (www.eliver.it) with a smal English section containing the list of my literary production and translations. I value every chance to get in touch with my readers and discuss their opinion about my work, even in those occasions when it’s not positive.
I was very curious about how the Hungarian readers would react to ClipArt, knowing Galaktika has “educated” their taste with very high quality SF books, and I will keep reading – or better, trying to decipher through the automatic translator – their reviews and opinions, which I consider very valuable.
13. You are not only a writer, you are also a professional translator. You have recently translated stories by Neil Gaiman, Ian Watson and Robert Sheckley, to name a few. Does translation inspire you in writing?
Working as a translator allows me to keep my writing muscles always fit, especially when I’m not working on something of my own. And I love the idea of bringing all those incredible stories to the Italian readers, trying at the same time to be as faithful as possible to the original spirit and style of each author. I’ve translated a lot of short stories and a few novels, but I find the first ones much more enjoyable: every author brings me something different. But I wouldn’t call it inspiration. I like to imagine and build my own stories and characters: once a story is told by some other author, I loose every possible interest I might’ve had in that certain theme. Been there, done that. And the more I read (and translate), the more I realise how difficult it is to find a theme that is really new.
9. Besides writing science-fiction you are also a fantasy author. Which one do you prefer?
I never wrote a lot of fantasy, actually, but one of my few fantasy short stories – A day in the hard life of God’s webmaster – was quite successful, so it seems I’m a fantasy author too. I translated a huge fantasy book by John Marco: does it count?
Anyway, my favourite fantasy author is of course JRR Tolkien. Oh, and Anne Rice: I really enjoyed her Vampire Chronicles! Do vampires fit under the fantasy label?
14. You have edited a book containing fantastic haikus, so called fantaikus. Could you tell us a few words about it?
Shortly before the eve of the new millennium, in the Fantascienza.com website, we opened a small public gallery to collect haikus dedicated to the new year 2000 by our readers. This little experiment was quite a success and the Fantaiku gallery has been open and growing since: today, it hosts over 20.000 original SF and fantasy themed haikus (but also many traditional ones), written by a large number of authors from all over Italy.
The book I edited is a sort of “Best of Fantaiku”, a selection of the most interesting haikus published in the gallery, grouped in a number of themed chapters: outer space, the moon, the alien, cyberpunk and so on. The selection process was very hard, but in the end I was very satisfied with the result, and so were the 100 authors!
15. Are there any plans for other foreign editions of your works?
The English/American SF market is so rich of new authors that in my opinion it’s almost impossible for foreign authors to be taken into serious consideration, even if you’re a bestseller in your own country, which I’m not. And the European market is very fragmented. So I kind of stay at the window: I take part to SF social events such as Eurocons, meet new SF readers and authors online through my social network, organise events with SF authors in Second Life – recently we had Charles Stross! – and I wait for things to happen. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But if I could choose, I’d really love to be published in Russia, though! I have the feeling their SF market is very lively. Do you know any good publisher I could write to?
16. You started your career with writing fanfiction. What kind of fanfiction did you write, and when did you decide to create your own world?
Oh, I still write fanfiction! It’s a bad habit and a waste of time, I know, but I can’t help it. I enjoy it too much! Actually, I think my fanfiction and original production began roughly at the same time, around 1996. I worked on a Star Trek TNG novella, a crossover with the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley: totally unpublishable, except by the local official Star Trek Club, which soon did. In parallel, I started writing my first Kranio Enterprises short stories, Hungry Light, and later Origami. I loved Cyberpunk and wanted to give it a try, so I’d say the two things are quite independent from each other.
I write fanfiction because sometimes I feel some literary or TV characters deserve better, or to try new plots, or to fill “gaps” between story arcs. It’s mainly short stories now: in my collection, on my website, I have two stories set in the Doctor Who universe (both in English), one about The Lord of the Rings, a few about Star Trek TNG, one about Stargate SG-1 (Modding X-treme, that also won our Premio Italia as best fannish story), one about NCIS and a few others. And I plan to write more: they help me keep in good shape when I’m not inspired for original stories, and they’re fun to share.